Misinformation targeting Muslims is at an all-time high, and hate has reached a fever pitch.
Islamophobia: Hate Not Covered by Freedom of Speech
Americans have a long history of disdain for anyone that isn’t white and Christian. From Native Americans to Asians and East Indians, people of color and other religions have often been ostracized. Like all prejudices, Islamophobia is rooted in deep-seated hate, misinformation, and bigotry. In the case of Islamophobia, the keyword is “phobia,” and according to AmericanProgress.org, Islamophobia is: “An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.” When you add to the lack of understanding of Muslims, the massive amount of misinformation that is spread about them, and the fact that those of the Muslim religion perpetrated the 9/11 attack you have the perfect enemy for Americans to hate.
In this current era of Islamaphobia, there is a top down attitude which has compounded the already existing levels of racism and bigotry, causing mistrust and divide. Muslims around the country have reported feeling unsafe and attacked.
A more recent example of the prejudice against was the explosively divisive poster that was placed in the Charleston, West Virginia capitol rotunda displaying Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar with an image of 9/11 and insinuating a connection based on the fact that she is Muslim. That Friday was being called “WV GOP Day” is an example of how low the GOP will go.
The poster promptly caused an all-out fight as Democrats rejected it. It is reported that Anne Lieberman, the Sergeant-at-Arms was accused of stating that “all Muslims are terrorists,” and had resigned by the end of the day. There was a physical altercation as Democratic House Minority Whip Mike Caputo injured a doorkeeper during an argument about the poster; with decisions to see if Caputo will be facing official consequences for the action that sent the employee to the hospital.
After the day’s actions were said and done, there was confusion as to precisely who placed the poster in the rotunda. Roger Hanshaw, the Republican House Speaker, condemned the action stating
“The West Virginia House of Delegates unequivocally rejects hate in all of its forms.” And continued to say “Leadership of the House of Delegates is currently working to investigate these incidents to learn firsthand the factual basis of what occurred, and will respond with appropriate action.”
Ilhan Omar, along with Rashida Tlaib, became the first Muslim women that were elected to Congress this midterm.
The poster is just another example of the extremism that some Americans have adopted in their continued acceptance of misinformation.
Fear, Misinformation, Ignorance: The Heart of Islamophobia
Like any prejudice, the base of Islamophobia includes ignorance of the Muslim religion, misinformation spread about the religion, and fear of something that they don’t understand. Many that criticize Muslim women wearing a hijab seem to forget that all images of the Virgin Mary include a head covering. Additionally, it wasn’t until 1983 that the Roman Catholic Church abolished the requirement for women to wear a head covering when entering the church.
None of this makes any difference to individuals that are pre-set in their disdain for Muslims. According to the FBI reports, hate crimes have been on the increase, beginning with the time period of Trump campaigning for the Presidency.
Religious bias (Based on Table 1.)
Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,679 offenses reported by law enforcement.
A breakdown of the bias motivation of religious-biased offenses showed:
58.1 percent were anti-Jewish.
18.7 percent were anti-Islamic (Muslim).
4.5 percent were anti-Catholic.
3.2 percent were anti-multiple religions, group.
2.4 percent were anti-Protestant.
1.8 percent were anti-Other Christian.
1.4 percent were anti-Sikh.
1.4 percent were anti-Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Other).
0.9 percent (15 offenses) were anti-Mormon
0.9 percent (15 offenses) were anti-Hindu.
0.8 percent (13 offenses) were anti-Jehovah’s Witness.
0.5 percent (9 offenses) was anti-Buddhist.
0.5 percent (8 offenses) were anti-Atheism/Agnosticism/etc.
4.9 percent were anti-other (unspecified) religion.
The method of response to Representative Omar’s comment about an attitude toward a country has been one of rabid hate, including local gas stations that have encouragement towards her assassination.
This example is one situation that has hit mainstream media, but there are many more that occur that are simply not reported. The Muslim Advocates organization have stated that there is a pandemic of underreporting or non-reporting by jurisdictions. The 2017 FBI report indicated that even though individual reports and advocacy group tracking showed a more significant increase, a majority of law enforcement agencies reported zero hate crime incidents for their jurisdictions. We now enter the broader realm of the legal authorities turning a blind eye to the kind of hate crimes that would taint their communities.
Jewish and Muslim Faiths Seeking to Bridge the Divide
Mainstream media seems to be lacking in the reporting of some of the “good news” stories that have been happening across the U.S. Muslims and Jews are helping each other by support during religious attacks, and by getting together to bridge relations.
After the horrific shooting of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, a Muslim nonprofit, CelebrateMercy, raised nearing $240,000 to help the Jewish victim’s families pay for medical bills, funeral expenses, and other needs. This action was part of their message of compassion via their Launch Good campaign.
In New York, a nonprofit organized a series of Ramadan iftar meals at Jewish households and Synagogues in an effort to reinforce religious solidarity.
While their religions are different, they share many of the same ideologies, and there is an avid desire to try to humanize those that are part of their communities.
Fake News and Misinformation Breeds Hate Crimes
Those that buy into the false narratives are typically ignorant of the difference between radical Islam and those that abide by the true Muslim faith. To put it into context, it would be like comparing the Christian extremists that slaughtered and murdered cultures all over the world to convince them to adopt Christianity versus those that abide by the Western version of Christianity. Both are considered to be radical extremes.
The misinformation and outright lies that have been spread have found a home on social media. Viral content against Muslims has included those against immigrants, refugees, and everyday citizens. The hate rhetoric has been followed by actions from those that believe the fake news and social media is a fertile ground to enact hate crimes. There is little, if any, research that has gone into how images involving Islamophobia have manipulated those that are most susceptible. Both images and text have been used to increase social divisions as well as propagate some political agendas.
The little research that has been done regarding the spread of Islamophobia in social media has been accomplished by ScienceDirect. The beginning of their summary states:
“To sum up, online Islamophobia clearly contributes to legitimizing xenophobic discourses, normalizing abusive behavior and providing discursive opportunities that encourage physical attacks by propelling and fueling hatred, thus the risk of turning opinions into action (Koopmans and Olzak, 2004).”
Social media has created an entirely new landscape to pass on words of hate. A single image or text can become explosively viral in less than a few hours, and when the information is false, it spirals out of control. These messages have been weaponized to escalate Islamophobia and prejudices of its kind. Social media such as Facebook are being used to normalize Islamophobia, depicting Muslims as a security threat. In one examination of Twitter between January, 2013 and April, 2014, 500 tweets were drilled into to find a reappearance of words used to describe Muslims including: terrorist, scum, pigs, pedos, and Yusrats. Far-right groups using social media have represented Muslims as untruthful, dangerous, “out group,” and referred to them as dirt and filth, along with accusations of pedophilia, incest, rape, and terrorism.
Individuals and organizations that support Islamophobia carry the same lack of ability to detect misinformation from reality and in their desire to remove everyone that isn’t “like them,” they are creating their own kind of cult mentality. In their attacks, they destroy lives, families, and the very base of diversity that our Democratic experiment was founded on.
Our thoughts tonight are with our Kiwi friends in New Zealand. We hope for your safety in the senseless tragedy that has ensued.
This Is Why We Fight,
We are fighting in the war against misinformation to create a more empowered critical thinking society.
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